Pence salutes defectors from North Korea

10 people standing by a table (© Woohae Cho/Getty Images)
Vice President Pence (center) and his wife, Karen (fourth from left), meet with defectors from North Korea and Fred Warmbier (third from right), Otto Warmbier's father. (© Woohae Cho/Getty Images)

Vice President Pence hailed the bravery of four North Korean defectors who risked their lives to flee a prison state that “tortures and impoverishes its citizens.”

“We’ve been inspired by your bravery,” the vice president said in Seoul on February 9 before the start of the Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang. Earlier he called North Korea “the most tyrannical regime on the planet.”

The vice president was accompanied on February 9 by Fred Warmbier, father of Otto Warmbier, the American college student jailed during a tourist trip to North Korea. He was in a coma when released from prison and died after his evacuation to his Ohio hometown.

Pence told the defectors that he wants to “make sure that the world hears your story.” Among the four was Ji Seong-ho, who fled North Korea on crutches and was honored by President Trump during his recent State of the Union address.

Another who fled for freedom, Lee Hyeonseo, said that while the media focuses on the Olympics, “what we should never forget is the millions of North Korean people who are struggling to survive in this extremely cold winter.”

She and Ji recently met President Trump at the White House.

Pence also conferred with South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the Blue House. “We shared our common objectives of confronting the regime of North Korea,” he said afterward.

“Our resolve to stand with you is unshakable,” Pence said. He said the world must not be fooled by North Korea’s “charm offensive” and reiterated, “the time has come for North Korea to permanently abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile ambitions.”

The vice president also visited the memorial to the 40 South Korean sailors killed in 2010, when a North Korean submarine torpedoed their ship, the Cheonan.